Conservatives must investigate 'institutional Islamophobia' in the party, Muslim Council of Britain says

25 February 2024, 12:02 | Updated: 25 February 2024, 12:04

The Muslim Council of Britain has called for an investigation into institutional Islamophobia in the Conservative Party
The Muslim Council of Britain has called for an investigation into institutional Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Britain's largest Muslim body has called for the Conservatives to launch an investigation into "institutional Islamophobia" within its ranks.

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The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) told Tory chairman Richard Holden that anti-Muslim bias was "on public display this week" in the party.

It comes after the Conservatives' former deputy chairman Lee Anderson was suspended from the party for accusing Sadiq Khan of being under the control of Islamists.

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman also said that Islamists were in charge of the UK.

Both incidents followed chaotic scenes in Parliament when the Speaker broke with convention to allow a Labour vote on an SNP amendment on a ceasefire in Gaza. He said he made the decision based on concern for MPs' security.

Read more: Deputy PM says Lee Anderson 'didn't intend to be Islamophobic' by saying that Khan was controlled by Islamists

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Watch Again: Deputy PM Oliver Dowden joins Matthew Wright

A large group of pro-Palestine protesters were outside the House of Commons that evening. It has since emerged that three female MPs have also been given bodyguards amid fears for their safety.

Labour and several Conservatives have denounced Mr Anderson's words, and Mr Khan himself said the Ashfield MP's comments were "pouring fuel on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred".

In a letter to Mr Holden, MCB secretary general Zara Mohammed called for an investigation to be launched, adding: "Our view is that the Islamophobia in the party is institutional, tolerated by the leadership and seen as acceptable by great swathes of the party membership.

"Leaders - especially those in politics - have the ability to shape the agenda and a narrative, and play a role in Islamophobic hate crime, which has trebled, according to (national project) Tell Mama.

"These issues cannot - and must not - be ignored."

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Tell Mama, which tracks anti-Muslim sentiment and incidents, claims that there were 2,010 cases of Islamophobic hate between October 7 2023 and February 7 this year, compared to 600 cases for the same four-month period a year previously.

Anti-Semitic incidents also spiked over the same period, which came after the Islamist group Hamas' terrorist atrocities in Israel, and the subsequent ongoing war.

Ms Mohammed commented on the fact that Mr Anderson was only suspended came only after he refused to apologise, not after the initial remarks.

She added: "We also note that the whip was withdrawn only after there was widespread condemnation across the board, while the Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet remained silent."

The letter also said Ms Braverman's Telegraph article played into antisemitic tropes and fell into a "well-trodden Islamophobic path".

The MCB - which is affiliated with more than 500 mosques, schools, and charitable associations - previously sent a dossier with 300 allegations of Tory Party Islamophobia to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission in 2020.

Lee Anderson
Lee Anderson. Picture: Alamy

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden told LBC's Matthew Wright did not mean to be Islamophobic.

"I don't believe Lee Anderson is Islamophobic himself at all," he said.

But he said: "I do understand the worries that people had about it, particularly the linking to a specific individual."

Mr Dowden added: "I think words matter in politics and the way he expressed himself could cause offence to people.

"He was given the opportunity to apologise, he declined that opportunity, so we rapidly removed the whip, and I think that's the appropriate course of action to take."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said earlier that Rishi Sunak was harbouring "extremists" in his party, adding that it was right that Mr Anderson had been suspended for an "appalling racist and Islamophobic outburst".

Mohammed Amin, a former chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, told LBC that he was "very worried about the way the Conservative Party is going".

He added: "The same way that the Labour Party became frankly unsafe to Jews under Jeremy Corbyn, right now we have a Conservative Party that seems incapable of dealing with anti-Muslim bigots inside it."

A 2021 investigation into possible Islamophobia in the Conservative Party found that there was no institutional racism, although some within the party complained that Muslims had been excluded from the inquiry.